Thoughts in transit: Did I come to Malaysia for the wrong reason?

I’ve made a New Year’s resolution (not really) to try to be a better blogger. And in my head, being a better blogger means writing while I am on a trip, and not attempting to do it three years later when I can barely remember anything.

Anyway, I’m three days into my trip to Malaysia and up until yesterday I was in a bit of a quandary – I wasn’t…really…loving…this.

“But how Ceola?! How?!” you might ask.

The truth is, I don’t really know.

I should preface this by saying Malaysia was not one of my must-visit countries.

I’ve gotten to a point in travelling where I realise I’m feeling torn between going to a new country or returning to ones I’ve already been to when I’m picking a destination.

I don’t want to think of me going somewhere new as ‘ticking a box’, every country I’ve been to so far was somewhere I really wanted to see and experience.

Malaysia was less that and more…well…it’s a country in South East Asia I haven’t visited yet so I should go…right?

I think that lack of zeal from the decision-making phase of this trip has, to an extent, coloured my experience so far.

Before I go any further though, I want to emphatically say to Malaysia – it’s not you, it is definitely me. Everything I’ve seen of the country so far (which, in all fairness, is not very much at all) has been fascinating – it’s this incredible amalgamation of cultures and ethnicities that I, as a Trinidadian, can appreciate, and yet it doesn’t feel entirely familiar to me.

I think part of the issue is I didn’t come here with any real plan – not even a plan not to have a plan. It took me ages to even finish booking all my hotels and flights. I still haven’t booked tours, but it was not my intention to take it easy in Malaysia (like it was last year in Bali). I have not been very purposeful in my coming here and I think that is my problem.

I know there’s a lot to learn from Malaysia, and I know this is a unique and exciting place that I can feel myself warming to even now as I type. I feel pretty confident that by the end of this I will fall in love with the country.

But for the first two days of my trip…I wondered…what if I don’t? What if I came all the way here, spent all this money, and then didn’t enjoy myself at all?

That’s never happened to me before, not really. There have been cities I visited that I didn’t care for, but those were usually on the way to somewhere else I really wanted to be.

So this now brings me to a bigger philosophical position on travel – can you travel without a purpose and have the experience still be a rewarding one? I’m beginning to suspect I cannot. And when I say purpose I don’t necessarily mean plan…I mean…just something that is driving you in your journey – an objective or a goal.

When I went to Bali I went with the explicit intention of relaxing. I ‘wasted’ a lot of time there – lazing about in bed, aimlessly wandering the streets of Ubud, getting far more massages than any one person should get, and yet, that’s why I went, to do exactly that.

But if you asked me now why I came to Malaysia, I cannot say much more than ‘because I hadn’t been yet’.

I don’t think this works for me, not just in travel, but in life in general. I am goal-oriented to the point of it being a flaw, evidently.

Anyway, my attitude is improving. My last day in Penang for some reason was a kick in the butt – I started to feel more energised and excited about being here and the fact that my next destination is Malaysia Borneo helps tremendously.

If there’s one thing I wanted to do above all else in Malaysia it was to visit the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sepilok, and in two days I’ll be doing just that. Before I see the ‘tans though, I’ll be diving in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park off the coast of Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah, Borneo.

After that I head on to Kuala Lumpur where I’ll be in a feeding frenzy and perhaps get a bit of shopping in as well. I promised my co-workers Malaysian treats so I need to go on a hunt for travel-friendly snacks to take back to the office.

I really just wanted to get my thoughts about this down on paper…or screen. I’ve never felt that overwhelming feeling of dread about a destination before – what if I don’t love this? What if I don’t enjoy myself here? It was alarming, and yet I feel like it might be a common thing in this age of doing shit specifically for the ‘gram.

What’s the point of all this travel if you don’t know why you’re doing it?
Is anything fundamentally wrong with scratching things off a list or ticking a box?
Can you enjoy travel without a purpose?

I don’t know that I have the explicit answers to all those questions.

Here’s what I know right now – travel is a privilege and should be entered into with reverence and respect for the destination. If you arrive without that, you might be in for a hard time.

I’m not sure I came to Malaysia for the right reasons but I think there is still time to fix that.

I really want to come away from each of my travels with a better and more sincere appreciation for the place I’ve been to. For me that means trying to engage with more locals and learn more about a country.

It’s about learning the history so I can understand the present better. What are the challenges? Where are the opportunities?

Hopefully by the end of this journey most of those initial reservations would be a distant memory.

So tell me, have you ever travelled for what you now believe to be the wrong reasons? What would you do if you got to a country and decided you could not enjoy your time there? And how do you decide which country to visit when planning travel?